10 things I learnt by watching a top comedian at work

Up close and personal with Dara O’Briain

Recently, I was fortunate enough to see a work in progress and I learnt a lot. Myself, my wife and 58 others crammed into the most gorgeous, tiny theatre on Monday evening to watch a work in progress – it was a warm up gig for one of the UK and Ireland’s top comedians. Being up so close and personal, I learnt a lot. Dara O’Briain, is host of the BBC’s Mock the Week and Stargazing Live, amongst many other things and is about to embark on another sell-out UK tour from January.

Here’s what I learnt:

  1. Even if you’re on top of your game, you’re never too good to test your customer / audience reaction.
  2. Even when you’ve established yourself with a new market, unless you have something interesting to say, you will not engage your audience. Jerry Seinfeld once said he has three minutes where he can rely on his brand and the audience will listen to whatever he has to say. After that, he has to be as funny/engaging as any other comedian. Dara was in the same boat.
  3. You’re only as good as your last gig /communication.
  4. Honesty and transparency will win through every time – Dara explained from the outset that some things may not work. (Most things did).
  5. Practice, practice, practice whatever you do. The 10,000 hours rule applies to so many walks of life. I bet Dara’s done his 10,000 hours – and it shows.
  6. It’s OK to be nervous – it shows you care and are passionate about what you do. It was noticeable he was more nervous at the less tried and tested parts.
  7. I stood up in front of two audiences last week and presented what I do. I stood up and talked for 30 minutes. 20 minutes is the accepted length of time to hold an audience’s attention. Dara stood there for an hour and a half with 60 people hanging on his every word. That’s really tough. Next time you do a business presentation, I don’t recommend you try it.
  8. Stories he told about himself and every day life resonated most. Stories win every time. Audiences love stories. Especially ones that show challenge in the face of adversity and ones that people can relate to.
  9. Audiences / clients generally want you to succeed when you stand up in front of them – start with that mindset and you won’t go far wrong.
  10. Whilst this clearly wasn’t a business event, it amazes me the number of people who don’t get that communications in business can be entertaining too. When you are trying to deliver a message, if you do it with humour and energy, you’ll get a better response every time – because it’ll be memorable.

And for you Dara if you read this – make more the of corporate mockery – it’ll resonate across the country… your Dutch accent sounded French until I prompted you… the Call of Duty stuff was great and do more with the Dad’s late night telly – it makes us squirm and that’s funny.

I now have a new found respect for stand up comedians – you’re very alone on that stage and 90 minutes of saying original, interesting, funny, entertaining stuff with nothing but a mic to hold onto is tough.

My top 10 highlights from 2011

2011 – what a year!

It’s always good to look back on the year and figure out whether you’ve achieved or not, above and beyond the financial goals you may have set yourself.

2011 has been an amazing year for me in many ways and so I wanted to document my highlights to look back on for prosperity. In no particular order.

  1. After a year of courting and 3 months of working together on one of the worst projects I’ve ever been part of, I sacked a Fortune 500 client in April this year and haven’t looked back. Yes I was nervous, but boy was it the right thing to do.
  2. I took a 6 week, round the world, mini-retirement in July/August with my family.
  3. My proudest moment to date, Customer Thermometer launched to the world in January and boasts some ENORMOUS clients who literally rave about it on a daily basis. I’m seriously proud of what we’re creating.
  4. I tweaked my video production company, The 8.45 Club and now have a very healthy looking 2012 ahead producing Business TV for clients. I get to play presenter and talkshow host. So I’m like a pig in muck…
  5. I’ve just finishing watching my 4 year old daughter go through her first term of school and it’s been an absolute joy watching her love every moment.
  6. I watched James Schramko tell his life story in February and met him for coffee in August. He’s been a big inspiration in how I now do things.
  7. I’ve totally reconstructed how I present myself and my business(es) thanks to Ed Dale’s recommendation of this book. I cannot begin to tell you how much it’s changed my business career.
  8. I’ve got to talk to two marketing heroes of mine this year, David Meerman Scott and John Jantsch. It just proves once again, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
  9. I ran a half marathon in sub two hours in March and have now set up a charity challenge around the running theme for Sept 2012 – more on that soon.
  10. I celebrated my 40th birthday in style in Ibiza and finally wrote the story of how I very nearly didn’t make my 30th birthday, let alone live 10 years beyond that.

What a year. These are just a handful of my personal highlights. Bring on 2012.

You have to start somewhere

No one goes to great overnight.

Even those who appear to have risen to success quickly has had a long, possibly hidden journey.

I live in Bray, Berkshire – about 100 metres from the home of Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant.

I just stumbled across this description of how he got started and wanted to share it.

In 1995, after more than two years of searching, Heston bought a 450-year-old pub in Bray. Small, with an impossibly cramped kitchen, only one door, no view, an outside toilet and a reputation as the hotspot for every drinker banned from other pubs in the area, it was hardly the ideal choice for a restaurant, but it was all he could afford.

At this stage, there was no thought of Michelin stars. With its beams sandblasted and a U-shaped copper bar installed, The Fat Duck opened as a simple bistro serving French classics such as petit salé of duck, steak and chips, sauce à la moelle and tarte tatin.  On the second day the oven exploded and Heston spent the rest of service with a bag of frozen peas strapped to his head. Inexperience and limited funds meant he was spending twenty hours a day in the kitchen, occasionally snatching fifteen minutes’ sleep curled up on a pile of dirty tea towels.

In 2004 it became only the third restaurant in the UK to hold 3 Michelin stars and in 2005 was voted the Best Restaurant in the World.

An amazing journey in a relatively short period of time.

If you’re beginning your journey as a consultant, freelancer or coach and are currently wondering how to put food on your family’s table. Have faith. Have a vision. Be good at what you do. Spend over 50% of your time finding ways to promote your business and you won’t go too far wrong.

Heston set out with a vision. You can too.

Just start. And then iterate.

Keep it simple…

I wrote about Newton’s 3rd Law a while back – and I still subscribe to it – pretty much every day. To paraphrase Isaac himself:

For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

A friend of mine taught me this a long time ago and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s the way things get done. It’s the way fortunes are made and it’s the way great things are created.

The inch thick business plan doesn’t have a place in 2011 or in fact in any year going forwards. Having a one page plan… a direction… a vision even, is a very good thing, but then, just start. Try something. Put your toe in the water. Make a noise. Go outside your comfort zone. Anything.

And see what happens.

And then, iterate.

Change something. Try something else. Do something different. Talk to customers. If you don’t have any, find out what your prospects might want. Tweak your offer. Produce something in red instead of blue.

And see what happens.

And then, iterate.

Want to see this process in action from a company that started with nothing and now has multiple websites in the Top 1,000 most viewed? Here’s Collis Ta-eed, founder of Envato speaking more sense in 5 minutes than most of us do in an hour.

Approaching 40 part 3: The day I turned 40

I’ve been wanting to write this story for a long time. I turned 40 2 days’ ago and it seemed like the right time to do it. If you’re having a bad day, I hope it raises your spirits. If you’re having a bad time generally, I hope it helps you to put things into perspective. If you’re having a good time, I hope it helps you be thankful for what you have.

This is the last part of the story. There has been a lot to say. Part 1 was here and part 2 here.

It’s not a rehearsal

I go back every six months currently – to the Royal Marsden hospital for a blood test. I get nervous before, but have been skipping out of the hospital for 8 years. It’s the most sobering experience sitting in the waiting room and explains why I get so cross when I see the ‘yoof of today’ smashing the place up on the news with no regards for themselves or society.

It’s not a rehearsal I say.

And I like to think most days that I live that ethos. When I remember back to these times, when I see sad stories on the news, when I watch the Great North Run and hear the stories behind the runners, when I see a Leukaemia Research collection box, it hurts me more than most – however it’s one of the few scars I have from the experiences.

Has the experience changed me?

Ask those around me. Especially Suzanne.

Not really I don’t think. I’ve always tried to live a very full life and took great solace from that fact. I’m incredibly driven, I take on too much, I get frustrated when those around me don’t move as fast, I rarely sit and relax, I run with the ball too much, when I should pass (metaphorically speaking) and I can’t watch the sad films on Comic Relief or Children in Need. All said and done, I don’t think that’s so bad, considering.

So what to the future? I was 40 two days ago. What will I take forward with me for the next few years, 13 years after the spectre of Leukaemia reared its very ugly head? In no particular order – I will use these statements as a guide… I’d love to know whether you agree.

  • Change is inevitable – go with it, embrace it or fall behind the pack.
  • Having children changes you. For the better. Enjoy them while they’re young – and don’t pay lipservice to that statement, or you’ll regret it.
  • The pause button once in a while isn’t such a bad thing.
  • Running your own business is a privelige. It’s tough out there, but having a process and following your vision is key to success.
  • It is OK to say no once in a while. In fact, it’s quite good.
  • If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
  • You are the luckiest person alive if work is a hobby.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell people the truth, even if it hurts.
  • Time is the most previous thing we have – use it wisely.
  • Life is all about choices – you can actively choose how to live every day. Every decision, every reaction is down to you. Don’t blame others for your choices – just make better ones.
  • And the biggest learning point of all from this whole experience – which will be enscribed on my tombstone – “It’s not a rehearsal”. I genuinely subscribe to this. Grab chances while you can. It maybe too late tomorrow.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series – it’s been therapeutic writing it. Thanks to everyone for their emails and comments etc – the private response has been overwhelming. I hope you take whatever you can from it and use it.

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Have you seen what I’m doing for our charity challenge later in 2012?

CLICK HERE to find out and please DONATE something small if you can.

Approaching 40 part 2: The day I found out I had Leukaemia

I’ve been wanting to write this story for a long time. I turn 40 in 3 days’ time and it seemed like the right time to do it. If you’re having a bad day, I hope it raises your spirits. If you’re having a bad time generally, I hope it helps you to put things into perspective. If you’re having a good time, I hope it helps you be thankful for what you have. 

The story is a three parter. There’s a lot to say. Part 1 was here.

It was the not too bad one.

I had Hairycell Leukaemia. And yes, that was the not too bad one. It affects mainly men over 60 and is one of the rarest Leukaemias. Leukaemia is also pretty rare in itself. I was pronounced a freak of nature right there and then.

I still remember how happy the nurses were – there was palpable relief from all the medical staff. Everyone was over the moon that I had Hairycell Leukaemia.

No, really they were.

So we were, because they knew how to deal with it and the prognosis was good.

Later in the day (bearing in mind the time difference in Australia) the nurses came to tell us that Princess Diana had broken her arm in a car crash and we then heard the whole event unfold – something most people in the UK weren’t awake to hear.

So, on 31st August 1997, I learnt I had a relatively treatable Leukaemia and the world lost Princess Diana. It was a day I’ve not forgotten.

The next few months I went back to work, apart from on Monday mornings where I put my feet up, had the most wonderful view and sat with a drip in my arm for my weekly dose of chemotherapy. Cladribine was a drug I came to know a lot about. I got a bit tired but other than that, there were no side effects – not what you come to expect when you hear about chemotherapy.

My blood counts hit rock bottom as the not so smart chemicals attacked the bad guys as well as the good guys in my blood. I then had the delight of injecting myself on a fairly frequent basis to keep those white blood counts up, to prevent infection. Suzanne and I tried to keep doing the things we wanted to do. I’ll never forget driving to Broken Hill and back over a long weekend (Australians will know that’s an utterly ridiculous thing to do) and keeping the injection pack in bar fridges around the outback.

As December approached, my blood counts had returned to something resembling normal again – it really was a minor miracle. By all accounts I shouldn’t still have been standing up in July – I should have caught an infection and been wiped out, as I had nothing to fight it. Yet here I was, fighting fit again and carrying on with my Pilots License and working around Asia-Pacific. I was a seriously lucky boy.

After a load more tests towards the end of my treatment, I was told that they hadn’t managed to eliminate all the Hairycells (technical term for bad guys). There were still a tiny proportion in my bone marrow and it was possible the disease would return.

It did in fact. Around a year after we returned home.

October 1999

I was treated again – this time in the UK at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, where I was now under the care of a wonderful consultant, Dr Claire Dearden who to this day ranks in one of my top ten favourite people of all time. She’s an academic consultant who when I met her for the first time told me I have “her favourite disease.” Phrases like that you never forget.

I had the same treatment, but this time over a week instead of over months. It was an enforced holiday in an isolation ward with just me and some computer games and the beginnings of the Internet via a 56k modem. Apologies to the NHS if I ran up a phone bill.

More bone marrow tests were requested. I requested to be knocked out for these from now on – there’s only so much a bloke can take.

Once again, I went into remission, but there was doubt about the long term chances of the disease staying away.

My son Matthew was born in November 2003. A month before he was born, the letter I was dreading after a routine test came through the door. We had moved by then to Windsor, UK. Good enough for the Queen, good enough for us. I say this for a reason – the UK’s health postcode lottery.

Dr Dearden had tried and failed to get me on a medical trial of a drug she knew was going to help me long term when I lived in Oxford. She tried again and this time our new local authority said yes – they had the budget. Shocking, butI wasn’t complaining

And so I was one of the first couple of people in the world to have a combination of Monoclonal Antibodies and Pentostatin chemotherapy to treat Hairycell Leukaemia. There was a hope that 1+1=3 with this combination. If it worked, I’d be written up in medical journals and everything.

I had to go to the Royal Marsden hospital overnight for my first treatment, “just in case it didn’t agree with me” … great… As I sat on my bed and the drip went in I couldn’t help noticing the 10 doctors with clipboards and a tray of needles – “just in case”.

One by one they went away and after a few more weeks of treatment and tests, I went back to see some very happy faces shortly after Matthew was born.

I went into complete remission in January 2004 and have been totally clear to this day. As Matthew turns 8 soon – so will my period of complete health.

The final part of the story will appear on Wednesday next week. (Part 3 is now live – here!)

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Have you seen what I’m doing for our charity challenge later in 2012?

CLICK HERE to find out and please DONATE something small if you can.

Approaching 40 part 1: The day my life changed forever

I’ve been wanting to write this story for a long time. I turn 40 in 6 days’ time and it seemed like the right time to do it. If you’re having a bad day, I hope it raises your spirits. If you’re having a bad time generally, I hope it helps you to put things into perspective. If you’re having a good time, I hope it helps you be thankful for what you have. 

The story is a three parter. There’s a lot to say.

13th February 1997

My girlfriend (now wife) and I packed our bags, left our jobs, jumped on a plane and moved in together, 11,500 miles away from everything we owned and knew. Living in Sydney, Australia had been a dream for ages and we’d spent over a year making the dream come alive. I’d even flown out there the year before, looking for a job. The plan had worked. We were over the moon.

I had a medical through my sponsoring company – BT (British Telecom) a couple of days before we left the country. The HR dept weren’t overly organised, which in a funny way worked to my advantage. If they had have been, we would never have even left the country.

We landed and set up base in a hotel until we found our feet. A couple of days into the trip I received a fax (remember them?) asking me to call the doctor who’d carried out my medical. I called and he told me, “it’s probably a mistake, but your blood counts are a bit low, you should probably get them checked out…”

I put the phone down and did exactly what any perfectly healthy 27 year old who’d just landed in Sydney would do.

Ignore him completely.

There was no urgency attached to the conversation and I felt I had more important things to worry about at the time.

Fast forward to July 1997

I woke up one morning with a pain in my buttock. No sniggering… I was struggling to walk which was pretty odd, not to mention uncomfortable. This then forced me to register with a local doctor (I had to remind myself what the inside of a surgery looked like) and asked her to take a look. After much prodding from not one, but two doctors, I was about to be sent away with some anti-inflammatory pills. Before I left though, the wise doctor suggested she took some blood from me, just to be on the safe side. I then remembered the BT doctor’s phone call.

A couple of days later the pain had gone, but I went back to the surgery anyway as she’d asked me to report back that all was well.

I walked in smiling and she told me to sit down.

It turns out all wasn’t well.

It was around midday and anyone who had an appointment after me was going to be kept waiting for a while.

In the space of 30 seconds, my life turned on a sixpence.

It turns out the pain in the buttock was an infection. The reason it was unusual was because my blood should have been capable of fighting such things with ease. It seems my BT doctor should have made a little more of a fuss about the blood test I had back in February.

She proceeded to say sentences with words in that no one wants to hear in a doctor’s surgery which involved  “10% of normal levels”…. “blood transfusion”… “haematologist and “leukaemia”….

My girlfriend was called from work.

I had tunnel vision and my life flashed before me. The invincible, 27 year old, healthy, fit, Asia-Pac travelling, young man, was no longer invincible.

Considering it was 13 years ago, I remember the next few weeks vividly.

I was with a specialist haematologist within about 2 hours.

He and I sat stony faced across his desk and after some initial introductions, I asked the very simple question anyone reading this would have asked, because it’s the only thing that matters at that time.

“Am I going to die?”

“I don’t know”, was the reply. “We need to do some tests to find out what’s wrong.”

Later that afternoon, I had dozens of viles of blood taken, a bone marrow scrape (which is the most unpleasant thing I’ve ever had happen to me) and various other scans over the space of 2 hours.

Our walk back through the station at Town Hall in Sydney I remember so clearly – it was like one of those sequences in the movies – where they put a mist round you and everyone else is slightly blurred out… “Why me?” is all I remember asking time and time again.

We then went home to call our respective mum and dads. Not the call they were expecting. Not easy calls to make.

For the next two weeks I had lots more tests scheduled in. The doctors and nurses were incredible and the private health insurance I was given 24 hours before I left the country was a godsend. For those two weeks I had no idea if I was going to have my life shortened to just 27 years or whether I would be OK, or something in between.

I drove a lot, for some reason. I remember heading out into the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney and sitting and looking at the view. I also remember taking great comfort from knowing that I had lived my life to the max. I wouldn’t have changed anything. I have to say that was very comforting. The biggest battle in my head was coming to terms with not being with Suzanne any more – that was hurting me in a big way and there was nothing I could do about it.

I went back to the consultant for the diagnosis a couple of weeks later. By now it was the middle of August and a beautiful Sydney winter. The sky was so blue as we went in to the consulting rooms – I remember looking up at it before I went in, unsure of how I would be feeling like when I came out. As moments go in life – this was a moment.

Narrowing it down

They’d narrowed it down to three possible causes – one very bad, one bad and one not too bad. In order to complete the diagnosis, I had to have my spleen removed. It was three times the size it should have been, as it had been filtering pretty rubbish blood for who knows how many months or years. Removing it would help with treating me, as well as helping to absolutely diagnose the problem.

We left and called my parents. It was news… it wasn’t great news, but it could have been worse. There was hope and things were starting to happen. Everything is so much easier when things start to happen. It’s probably one of the reasons for me being obsessed with taking action today. Sometimes pausing is a better solution.

A week or so later I went into hospital to say goodbye to my spleen. My days as a sixpack model were numbered, and trips to Malarial countries were now out the window, however it was a small price to pay.

The operation was on 28th August 1997.

Three days later on 31st August 1997, as I was recovering from the operation and the morphine had been taken away 🙁 the doctor came to see me. My spleen had been whisked off to the lab and chopped into tiny pieces and put under a microscope. They could finally see what had been going on over the last few months and probably years.

They had narrowed it down to one of the three possibilities on a day where history was being made for all the wrong reasons back in the UK.

I’ll publish part 2 on Friday. (Part 2 is now live – here!)

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Have you seen what I’m doing for our charity challenge later in 2012?

CLICK HERE to find out and please DONATE something small if you can.

50 things I learnt by taking a 6 week mini-retirement

A personal account of my summer

A year in the making, my wife, 7 year old son and 4 year old daughter headed off for the whole of the UK’s school summer holidays on a round the world trip, inspired by my co-founder of Customer Thermometer and Tim Ferris’s concept of the mini-retirement

It was a summer I’ll never forget and one I wanted to record for posterity.

To quote Tim Ferris:

  • A sabbatical is a one-time event. Mini-retirements are meant to recur throughout a lifetime.
  • A vacation is short, and often involves a tourist lifestyle with little immersion in a new way of life. A mini-retirement is long (one to six months), and allows one to fully participate in his new environment.

My wife and I have worked hard; really hard for the last three years, and decided that it was time to reward ourselves. We left on 22nd July and returned on 1 September and visited Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon, San Diego, Carlsbad, Disneyland, Brisbane, Cairns, The Barrier Reef, Palm Cove, Sydney and finished in Ko Samui in Thailand.

I learnt such a lot – about life and business from both people I met and things I read and have written this as a record of the trip, in the hope others might be inspired by my observations:

  1. Doing truly memorable things requires big decisions – little ones just don’t cut it. We didn’t just stumble upon this trip – it was a year in the making.
  2. I’ve discovered my love of creating a vision for something and seeing it through. It will be important to develop another one when we get home.
  3. Seeing your children’s faces when they meet Mickey Mouse at Disneyland is quite special.
  4. Descending in a helicopter from ground level, into the Grand Canyon rendered me speechless. Those of you who know me will realise that’s quite impressive. It made me remember the inscription that will be on my tombstone – “It’s not a rehearsal”.
  5. It’s a big gamble taking 6 weeks off when you work for yourself and I don’t yet know what will happen when I get back to my desk. Nothing is certain, but what I do know is that I focused on building a platform and pipeline for the three months before I left and so I will arrive home with confidence.
  6. Disney is the master of creating the total experience. You can absolutely apply this to your consulting business. Perhaps not with water shows and fireworks, but by adding value to clients in ways they wouldn’t expect.
  7. Watching different attitudes towards customer service around the world has been fascinating. In Thailand, we were greeted at breakfast for the first time as “Mr Mark – welcome – we have the soya milk for your daughter as requested.” I hadn’t even given them my name. My daughter was also presented with a Mickey Mouse cup for her juice. Tiny amounts of effort, massive amounts of added value. Would it surprise you to know this same hotel responded to every email politely and promptly too?
  8. Mini-retirements give you time to read all those things you don’t have time to read.
  9. Tripadvisor.com and crowdsourced reviews are making and breaking hotel and restaurant businesses around the world. The iPhone and Android apps are must have travel companions. It’s the difference between an average and amazing experience. Because of Tripadvisor, we walked 500m to a restaurant in San Diego when standing outside a perfectly good looking one and didn’t regret it. The same will apply to your customers when looking for consultants too. Reviews, ratings and testimonials are so important, regardless of industry.
  10. I was taught about the power of networking years ago. It should be taught at school as an essential life skill. If you’re travelling, even in your own country, take the opportunity to meet people you know along the way. To my Australian colleagues – it was a pleasure.
  11. Going out of your way to create something different reaps dividends. Think Purple Cow.
  12. The Joe’s Crab Shack restaurant chain is a shining example of a superb customer experience – balloon sculptors at tables, waiters dancing to random tunes during your meal, a brand which makes you want to buy a t-shirt on the way out (they’ve sold several million already) and competitions while you eat – “first diner to provide a non-digital photograph gets a free entrée”. What are you doing to set yourself and your business apart?
  13. Hotel reception staff: don’t reel off memorized scripted greetings and farewells – be human for goodness sake.
  14. If you’re providing reporting instructions for an event / meeting / venue – put down all the information you think might be necessary. Think about how to make your customers’ lives easier, not harder. Small things like airport terminal names or numbers are actually rather helpful.
  15. If you move from Ethiopia to Las Vegas and become a taxi driver – I take my hat off to you. That’s a big decision. Big decisions are good.
  16. Ethiopian taxi drivers taking your first ever fare, learn where the airport is before you start your newly chosen career. Particularly when it’s 10 minutes away and you can practically see it from your pickup location. What basics do you not have a handle on, to do your job?
  17. We met friends along the way and it made us both realise that really good friends will always be really good friends, regardless of how far apart you live and how often you see each other. In my experience, the same is true of good customers. Even if they’ve not bought from you for a while – it doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t in the future.
  18. RANT: Many Americans (particularly in Disneyland) need to take a good hard look at themselves as they won’t live long enough to see their children grow up. I’m talking about obesity here and it made me REALLY cross. Also, it’s one thing to jeopardise your own health – but please don’t inflict the same terrible values and habits on your children. A final point, I’d suggest if you can’t see your feet whilst standing up, it’s probably a good idea not to be eating the giant ice cream sundae. Seriously.
  19. There has to be a better way of enjoying yourself than looking thoroughly miserable, sitting in front of a slot machine in a casino, with a cigarette, at 7am.
  20. Have a place for everything – it speeds up your day and makes you less stressed when you can’t find it. How many hours do you (I) spend looking for stuff? Even more important when you’re travelling.
  21. It’s OK to tell your kids they can’t have the plastic junk they make you buy in gift shops. Maybe we’ll stop producing it eventually and save a little landfill space? And no, I’m not Scrooge.
  22. Australians are totally nuts for top quality coffee.
  23. Deep fried ice cream should be made illegal.
  24. “You can stroll 100m to find a well OR you can run 10km and not find one.” – Freedom Ocean #ep18. Or in other words, I should pause sometimes and think before taking action.
  25. It is possible to get an apartment like this for just over £100/night inc breakfast.  A few minutes of research online can save you $00(0)’s. Visit www.agoda.com (but keep it under your hat.)
  26. Don’t get to 70 and claim you’re getting too old to do stuff, when you’re actually fighting fit… Try stuff, you might surprise yourself.
  27. Take time to listen to others’ opinions. You may not agree, but you’ll learn something.
  28. Don’t say “Have a nice day” whilst mumbling, looking in the other direction, being insincere, not quite finishing the phrase, after you’ve heard a complaint or late at night. It makes you look ridiculous.
  29. Got someone important arriving at your office? Make them feel welcome – have everything ready way in advance – boil the kettle before they arrive if you have to. Don’t run around in a flap after they arrive. (And don’t send up rollaway beds and make them up at midnight when the request was made 6 weeks before).
  30. Make your emails and written instructions clear and concise. Read them back to yourself. Make sure there’s no ambiguity. The same applies to requests made over the phone – it’s always a good idea to request a taxi big enough for your luggage 😉
  31. When someone buys from your business – don’t forget to remind them of the other things you do along the way. Gold star to the fabulous servers at http://www.bucadibeppo.com/ who tell you about the function rooms and specials… whilst showing you to your table.
  32. Smile, make conversation and ask questions to strangers around a pool from time to time – you just might just learn something and you never know where it may lead.
  33. Surprise your customers once in a while, even when they’re already delighted with you. Offering free beer and food at 5pm works a treat – especially when it’s a surprise. Hilton Homewood suites – you’ve a fabulous model there – thank you for a great stay.
  34. Airlines – it’s time you started innovating. You’re all the same. Virgin is still the only one to set itself apart from the crowd, and that was years ago. It just can’t be that hard. Ever thought of a free flight lottery for a random seat number to create some excitement? Ever thought of stewards occasionally breaking out into a dance routine, or smiling (sorry)? Ever thought of addressing customers by their names (like Singapore Airlines do)? Try something please – in the last 20 years, you’ve gone backwards.
  35. Don’t be scared of taking a 4 year old with a peanut allergy and a 7 year old around the world – they adapt very quickly.
  36. What has my 7 year old learnt? “I learnt that when a blue whale jumps out of the sea it’s called breaching” (we saw one), “how to say “hello” in Thai and that I don’t like the taste of beer.” Yet.
  37. It’s probably not a surprise that I learnt 4 year olds say the funniest things. When sitting in a boat at the bottom of the Grand Canyon after the most memorable helicopter trip of my life we ask “Lucy, what can you see”. She replied… “Nothing.” Well worth the £300 round trip for her don’t you think?
  38. Most emails aren’t particularly urgent after all so it seems – people really can wait.
  39. Accept you will lose quick turnaround project-based opportunities if you’re the face of a small business and go away for 6 weeks – it’s the nature of the beast. Be polite and follow up appropriately, be honest and they will come back another day. I hope.
  40. You can make money while you’re on a six week holiday. Next time we do it, it will cover my salary. It’s good to have a vision.
  41. I’ve learnt I don’t really need to run from the house screaming for air after three days’ looking after my children – I’ve not felt like that once since I’ve been away and they’ve been with me for 42 days!
  42. There are a LOT of people with iPads and Kindles sat by swimming pools around the world and it’s noticeable that Wifi in resorts is no longer a nice to have for geeks – it’s pretty much essential for normal people too.
  43. Be consistent with your customers. Set expectations and meet them. Don’t give a goody bag of snacks and drinks to your customers on one 10 hour flight and not another because you’ll disappoint. Don’t give children a funpack thingy on one flight and not another, because you then fall short of expectations and children notice stuff like that. MacDonalds I’m sad to say are one of the best models of consistency, because they have a system and follow a process.
  44. If you open a folder ready to drop in everything you’d like to read, watch and listen to a couple of months before you embark on a big trip, you can get through a lot of material. Just make sure you’ve a notebook to hand. And it doesn’t get drenched by the pool.
  45. I don’t know about you, but I get quite disillusioned with my country and where you live. Travelling opens your eyes to other countries, how other people approach things and can go a long way to restoring your faith in human nature. It also helps if a few thousand people don’t try to set fire to the UK for the sake of a few plasma TVs and pairs of trainers while you’re away.
  46. It’s OK to be sad returning home and coming to the end of a break, but it’s also good to return full of optimism, thanks to the effort you put in place before you left and the plans you’ve made while you’ve been away.
  47. Commit to recording memories of your experiences for your children – they will love looking at photos and videos of themselves growing up. We’ve already paid for our Albelli photobook to archive our story. The 2,200 photos will need to be thinned down a little though!
  48. Review your life once in a while and commit to making small changes – implementing big change is harder. Mini-retirements help you to see the wood from the trees.
  49. Embrace change. Embrace your constraints. Doing both will make you A LOT happier.
  50. Has 6 weeks away been life changing? Not quite. Has it changed our outlook on life, seeing us and our children grow? Yes. Are we already thinking about our next mini-retirement? Yes, absolutely. It’s like everything in life – if you do it enough, it becomes a habit, whether that’s good or bad.

I hope you pick up a nugget or two from the observations and if you are going to embark on a mini-retirement – I’d love to hear where you’re going below…

It’s OK to change direction

As I say to my children, “Go with what you DON’T know”

So many people start a business and continue with the same proposition, despite changes in the market and what their customers are telling them.

As the old adage says, there are two things which are certain in life. Death and Taxes. I’d like to add a third and that is Change.

Change is all around us and it’s a good thing. If your consulting business doesn’t adapt and change it won’t grow. If your consulting business doesn’t grow, it’s dead. That’s a proven fact.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, as one of my businesses, The 8.45 Club turns 3 in September and it’s come a long way since the outset and the original concept.

It was always going to be about video and then initially training. The original idea was a course on 100 video lessons to change your business. That was it. Nothing more, nothing less.

I then listened to feedback and decided that it was too bigger production task… I hadn’t tested the market and that smaller courses would be a better way to start. So that’s what I did.

I then listened to feedback and decided that getting traffic to those courses was going to be hard. I sold a few – but testing and gut instinct told me there was a better way.

So I started to partner with subject matter experts who already had audiences. They needed content and production skills and we were gaining those – but they already had an audience, so a partner programme began.

The 8.45 Club

The 8.45 Club – our first website and proposition

I then listened to feedback and decided that the techniques we were getting good at with green screen video production could apply in many different ways and so the focus of the marketing site and proposition wasn’t about selling training courses, but instead providing online video production services.

I then listened to feedback and decided that if we were to stand out from the crowd, to brand ourselves as a ‘bog-standard’ video production agency wouldn’t be the way to go, so we continued with the brand and adapted it, identifying 6 key propositions which our audiences can relate to. We changed the strap from “Learn from the experts… in 10 mins” to

“Bite-sized online video from experts”

…and I hope you get the double meaning there.

Things look and feel quite different now.

The 8.45 Club today

The 8.45 Club today – green screen video and training video production

Our core ideas – bite sized chunks of video (because no one has time any more) and high production values (because people need to be engaged) have remained throughout. Our proposition to the market has grown and changed dramatically. And do you know what? Google UK gave us a pilot Business TV programme last week – so it must be working…

Are you changing your business? Let us know what you think below.

Richard Branson talks about being an entrepreneur

The awesome folks at the I Love Marketing podcast team have managed to record this excellent video with Sir Richard. They film him on his Necker Island retreat and ask him a whole bunch of different questions.

One of my favourites is at 3’48” – What advice do you wish you had when you were starting your first business?

It’s 40 mins. There are some real gems in here.

Coffee time…